Fake News is Littering the Media Lanscape

Allie Kelsey, Viewpoints Editor

There has been an increasing amount of “fake” news and even though fake news has always existed, avenues like social media and fake news websites continue to fuel this destructive behavior. The harmful effects of fake news include the spread of false information, the altering of citizens’ opinions in mass numbers, a race to judgement before all information is gathered and verified, political persuasion, and arguments and division among each other as a human race.

Fake news is not like satire where shows like Saturday Night Live use humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose or criticize current topics or issues. Fake news actually uses fake websites or social media to mislead the public. The goal is to misguide, misinform, or deceive the community for some sort of gain. The gain could be political persuasion, financial gain, or inciting division among individuals, just to name a few potential reasons.

One major social media site, Facebook, is trying to make it more difficult for users to post fake news. Their plan involves multiple steps to stop the spread of fake news. You can now block a person altogether or message the person who posted the story. Facebook is now working with third-party fact-checking agencies. In order to fight against misinformation, Facebook must rely on its users to report false news and then it will be sent to fact checkers. If the information is found to be deceptive, it will get flagged as challenged and linked to articles that will substantiate why it is disputed. In researching the increase of fake news in order to come up with effective strategies to combat deception, Facebook discovered that a lot of fake news is financially influenced, so they are also taking measures to limit the potential financial benefit of fake news on both the buying side and publishing side of sites. Until Facebook implements all of these anti-fake news measures, it is will very easy to post fake news on Facebook.

So how dangerous is “fake” news? False news is not harmless and has serious consequences. One example of fake news that had serious ramifications was its role in this recent political election. There were accusations of Clinton selling weapons to ISIS and Trump supporters committing hate crimes that led to the actual assault of individuals. Both reports were later disclosed to be false; however, the damage was already done. These are just two examples of countless politically motivated attempts to misguide the public that took place during the presidential election. Other examples of harmful false news includes the spread of an irrational fear of the Ebola virus hitting the United States, D.C. on lockdown because a man with a gun believed false information linking a pizzeria to a place that abused children, and false or half information along with only short video clips involving police officers driving mistrust, hate, and violence against police officers before all facts were gathered and verified.
Denzel Washington, a famous actor, was pulled into fake news during this recent presidential election. It was claimed that he was switching his support from Clinton to Trump. During this false reporting, Washington said, “If you don’t read the newspaper you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed.” This is a powerful quote that accurately depicts the current state of news reporting.
So who is more likely to believe false news? Buzzfeed conducted a survey to see how often fake news stories fool people and found it to be 75% of the time. They also found that people who get their news from Facebook are more likely to fall for false news stories. According to Brooke Donald from Stanford University, studies show young people are more likely to believe fake news. They often cannot distinguish between reliable sources and unreliable sources. Science writer Michael Shermer believes that humans are conditioned to believe rather than not believe. A seasoned professor, Jennifer Whitson, claims people tend to believe lies when they are vulnerable. She feels that when people do not have control over their lives, they are more vulnerable to believe in false information. Considering all this information from surveys and studies it can be fair to say that a majority of the population is susceptible to believing false news reporting.

Despite the potential harmful effects of false news reporting, it is important that as a society we continue to have our basic first amendment right to freedom of press. Stronger measures do need to be taken to verify information before dissemination to the public, whether it be through websites, social media, newspapers, or TV news. Populations that have been identified as being more susceptible to believing fake news should be targeted for education on distinguishing between reliable sources and unreliable sources. Fake news has always and will most likely always exist; however, with recent heightened awareness steps can be taken to reign in the harmful effects of false news reporting.